two weeks ago, monday evening, abd-el-razaq tamimi, father of martyred mustafa, of dalal, zeyad, saddam, loai, odai, ola and little mohammad (also rest in peace), husband of ikhras died in ramallah hospital.
he died ten months after the murder of mustafa (28 at the time); ten months after his son odai (20) was released from military prison; eight months after odai’s twin loai was arrested at night by soldiers who once invaded their home; two months after loai was released; six weeks after his second-oldest son zeyad (turned 25 in prison) was arrested also at night, also from their home; eleven days after zeyad was released; eleven days after he at last saw his daughter dalal – whom he hadn’t seen since her marriage and move to the US nine years ago due to border/visas; eleven days after he finally met his first grandchild yamina (7) (more here).
he died six months after he underwent surgery on his right arm which was swollen, infected and so painful that he hadn’t been able to sleep for weeks or months; seven weeks after he was able to see a kind nephrologist (kidney specialist) in yafa who made them feel hopeful and dignified – and after they sat at the mediterranean sea once more.
abu mustafa died before he had the chance to meet his grandsons najeh (6) and ali (1,5), before he saw any of his other children marry and have children, before he could get a kidney transplant, and before he saw his family get back on their feet again.
his family counts their blessings that none of his remaining children was in military prison when he died (like odai was when mustafa was murdered), that none of them was abroad (like saddam when mustafa was murdered), that both dalal and yamina got to spend some time with him, and more than anything, that dalal is with her family in these hard days.
i still can’t believe – can’t accept – what loai, odai, ola, saddam, zeyad went through BEFORE they lost their father, i don’t understand what makes them continue, care, love, aspire, i search their faces for something (and i draw strength and love from spending time with them). remembering hard how it was to be in europe was when mustafa was murdered – and i didn’t even know him well – i still find the thought of dalal on the other side of the globe, without anyone who really new him, unbearable.. hearing the news of the injury, stuck to her phone/computer, trying to find out more, fearing, watching videos, looking at pictures, despairing, hoping hearing the final news – and then pain and emptiness … (she says she was unable to function for two months). i can only imagine the loneliness, the disconnection of a daily life that doesn’t really acknowledge her pain. it’s good that she’s here, for herself as well as for the healing support her presence here means for her mother and siblings.
abu mustafa was ill, his kidneys weren’t functioning. he needed to go dialysis in salfit about three times a week, sometimes more often for emergencies. on the second or third day after dialysis, he felt tired, had difficulty breathing, needed to nap during the day. he was frustrated. he could barely eat or drink as his body couldn’t dispose of unwanted stuff. he was hungry a lot of the time.
i only i saw him really eat (not just pick at) fruit once: unripe pomegranate seeds that he prepared in a bowl with salt .. and shared. i don’t know if he has always been this way or whether it was because he couldn’t eat much, but he REALLY wanted others to eat whatever good food there was. it’s a small thing but i feel sad when i eat imm mustafa’s bright-red shatta (شطة) now, he was pleased that I ate so much of it, he knew it was good. i thought he’d get to eat it again one day.
abu mustafa was in his mid-50s. he had a lot of energy, a lot of plans for life. he wanted to campaign for a kidney donation (no chance of getting a matching kidney through a waiting list). he wanted to get the second floor of the house ready for zeyad and saddam before next summer and do their weddings – since the murder of mustafa, they are clinging to the vision of a future with more children. he wanted to do little things and big things.
he was ill, but he didn’t die of kidney failure. imm mustafa and dalal say that he’d been feeling very tired and ill the last week. monday morning, he went for dialysis in salfit, then on to ramallah hospital because he was had difficulty breathing, kept sort-of retching without anything coming out. at the hospital they were kept waiting, were repeatedly told that it was just his kidneys, nothing serious, his complains of pain in the chest and left arm that felt like he was going to have a heart attack were ignored, he needed to stay the night but he was fine.
when imm mustafa and dalal finally left in the evening, hungry and exhausted, they asked saddam, who was at work in ramallah, if he could spend the night with his father. saddam planned to go as soon as he got off work at 6am, while they’d get back there later in the morning. a few minutes after they talked, as soon as imm mustafa and dalal arrived in the village, the hospital called to tell them … a heart attack….
i won’t go into how cold-blooded health-systems and institutions here (and in most places i know) make most medical personnel lose any trace of empathy and respect for people in need of their assistance, make them treat people like damaged-goods in factory-sized repair shops.
abu mustafa died suddenly, unexpectedly. his body is now in a tiny-looking grave with local sage plants growing on top, right next to the physical remains of his martyred son, in the cemetery beside the little circular gathering place where people sit in the shade of the mulberry tree after friday prayer.
i arrived in the village monday night. the women who had come to sit with imm mustafa had left, the boys were back from tarek’s house (tarek, the son of bashir, got released from military prison this tuesday, too late to see abu mustafa) where they had received the men-folk. nida’a (tarek’s wife), atheer (tarek’s sister), ola, and roba, (abu mustafa’s niece) were cleaning up. loai was sleeping (or hiding under a blanket) in the boys’ room, odai was pacing around, abu mustafa’s mother, saddam, zeyad, dalal and imm mustafa were sitting in the living room, spent from crying, in shock, exhausted, eyes red and puppy. abu mustafa’s only surviving sibling, his sister nuheila (not roba’s mother), was here and there.
they received phone calls, late into the night until one by one, they fell asleep somewhere on the living room floor, very close to one another, sharing blankets, pillows. the grandmother, roba and nida’a stayed up talking, crying, till almost sunrise. saddam couldn’t sleep, he walked back and forth, sat on the floor in his grandmother’s room, knees drawn to the chest, hiding his face, got up again, paced, smoked, came back, sat down… i’ve rarely exchanged even a handshake with the boys, but here i sat next to him and held his shoulders while he was shaking, until 4am (of course, nonetheless, he tried to comfort me, saying “esti, don’t cry”).
sometime later, when i, too, was squeezed on the floor and sleeping, nuheila received another call and began crying all over. her mother finally fell asleep sitting on a chair. It wasn’t yet 7h when imm mustafa got up and the first women arrived for condolences.
on the three days of the azza عَزاء, the boys showered in the morning, got dressed, went to the mosque and received the men and boys who came to mourn with them on the village square. we cleaned, made coffee, received the women/girls who came to mourn, took care of babies, slept, poured coffee, offered dates, served lunch that women in the village prepared cleaned up some more, slept, talked, cried, laughed, served more coffee, more dates until 10pm or 11pm at night. the boys did the same minus the cleaning and the babies. on the second and third day, people brought breakfast to the house and to the square, each night, the boys had dinner in a different home in the village.
the day of the funeral, nuheila’s children arrived in the morning, they came walking from their village. her sons went to the mosque, the girls came to the house where they joined the hosting, cleaning, crying, laughing, sleeping next to each other until thursday night. tariq, (roba’s brother who lives in amman) and his son ali left their house at 5am to arrive in time for the funeral and are staying for a bit; tariq’s wife and daughter couldn’t come for lack of required documents.
the first day, dalal looked frozen, not even crying any more. people were asking for her, so she sometimes joined her mother in the more formal living room while the other girls/women stayed in the kitchen, the boys’ room or the bedroom, but she just sat there, staring into space and soon escaped back to the bedroom, to hide under a blanket, not talking to anyone, not seeing anyone. in the afternoon she came out of it. i haven’t seen her cry since the first night.
imm mustafa still cries sometimes, but it’s not the full-on type of crying, not the way she and ola cried screamed and broke down when the men/boys brought his body from the hospital to their house only to take him away to the cemetery too quickly, when she tried to follow him, but was dragged back inside, when she screamed after him to greet mustafa; when ola dropped to the ground because she hadn’t seen his face before they took him away, forever.
during the ‘azza, hosting the never-ending wave of women kept her distracted (except on the first day). every time the shock, the incomprehensible truth of his death hit again, late at night, in the early morning, and in times of rest, you could see it. friday was the first day after the ‘azza, the first friday without abu mustafa (he liked to get huge platters of hummus and foul from beit rima friday mornings). when the grocery shopping, the fixing-the-water-tank, the cleaning and laundry was done, there came the quiet and with it the emptiness. though not for long, nabi saleh and the surrounding villages are a strong community, people keep coming and although it’s exhausting, it does make the difference.
everyone, and especially the boys, were (still are) clinging to the children, to mustafa (roba’s not-yet-one-year-old, mostly called “sattouf”) and his brother, to yamina, to ali. the first mornings, one of the boys found the sleeping child and carried him around, hugging him close. the first smiles and laughs were shared with or because of the children. i’ve rarely seen people who are as crazy about babies as abu mustafa’s children, especially his sons, all of them. they might come across as tough, sometimes macho, they’ll be shy around people they don’t know, but bring a baby/child into the room and it all melts away, it’s like they can’t resist. they’ll want to take her/him to the gas station to buy them something, or in the car if they need to drive somewhere, or just carry them around in the village. they’ll fight over who gets to hold the her/him. i am grateful that the children were and are around. now more then ever, they truly are the source of happiness and hope and life, their many needs break any stupor.
i initially knew the family through ola and zeyad, but i grew this close because, when ola was in jordan and the boys at work, i spend more and more time with their parents. and loved it. even cooking (mostly making salads in my case) or cleaning. (strange to admit but for some reason, cleaning the floor in this one house when no one’s around, i relax). sometimes the stark increase in volume and tension when the boys and ola come in makes me edgy and i escape to manal and bilal’s house or nariman and bassem’s.
abu and imm mustafa were often teasing each other, like teenagers. i’m not writing this to romanticize them in retrospect, it’s true, there were moments that still make me laugh. sometimes, i’d be in some formal skype meeting, sitting in the living room with headphones, and they’d be teasing each other so much i’d end up laughing. for some reason, i couldn’t imagine that they had been this nice with each other in the first decade of their marriage. i thought they must have grown harmonious over time (cynic, yes). i asked dalal now, and maybe she remembers only the good things, or maybe she wouldn’t want to talk about unflattering things (maybe not now) but she said they’d always been this way. she shared some memories from when she was a child that picture her father as protective and… (can’t find the word, loving?) as he was now. i’ve rarely heard him speak to his children without finishing his sentences with “yaba” يابا.
friday, some anarchist activists (a good friend of his, others who knew him less well) came to pay their condolences, at one point, one (who knows the family less well) said that i was brave – for staying with them. friends sometimes write or say they admire my courage (something like that) – for being in palestine, i assume. every time i relate anything from my daily life to my father, no matter what it is, no matter how often abu mustafa, the kids etc. skype with him and with my relatives, no matter how often they assure him that they watch for my safety as if i was their daughter, he ends up turning it into a scenario where i am some heroic, mother-theresa-ish fool with the need for self-sacrifice who feels a moral obligation to stay here, with the “here” being a version of gaza during a never-ending cast lead (he doesn’t get that i’m not in gaza, that – due to the colonization of palestine – i’ve never been). i’ll be telling him that imm mustafa is the mother of the friend that was murdered while i was in europe, and he’ll be pleading with me to start thinking of myself and my family, to return, to start living my own life… this type of comment, it’s not only painfully frustrating, i also can’t understand it.
i write so much about abu mustafa and his family because i’m hoping to convey that braveness and solidarity has nothing to do with my spending time with them, or my spending time with bilal and manal’s family or bassem and nariman’s or with other friends and families here and elsewhere in the west bank. and although i so wished i could protect them, in reality, and unfortunately, it’s more likely them protecting me, as they’ve done in the past; as for support, it goes both ways – like in any balanced relationship;
i suppose once in a while, i get to do something that could seem courageous to some (involving presence of setter colonists or soldiers usually), but those moments don’t make my life. if your reaction when reading things like this is that “wow”, i must be such a brave person (as opposed to reacting to the reality i actually wrote about), you not only have no clue of palestine and of life here – because in spite of zionism’s armies, people LIVE here, in their communities, with cultures and traditions that i’m not the first one to feel very attracted to; you also have a racist imagination of palestinians. again, i feel grateful to have found a home here, though i do wish i could feel at home somewhere closer to my family.
i used to worry about zeyad, i met him as a friendly, funny, tough but nice young man. but in recent months, he’s been needlessly bossy, angry and frankly a bit of an ass (sorry zooz) to the extent that i preferred not to be here when he was around. i felt very sad about him, i thought they had broken him, but that’s over now, he’s back to being his lovable that so many folks like/adore/appreciate him so much for. i think having dalal and yamina here (and maybe getting out of military prison) triggered that. more than that, he takes responsibility for his siblings and his mother, not in the macho ways of a bully, but in the firm, quiet and loving way of his father. they all have had to grow up too quickly.
something about the way his family pulls together now, in the way they hosted everyone, in spite of all, with so much care, evokes abu mustafa (the day of the funeral, i half expected him to walk into the kitchen going “yalla, ikhlas, girls, bring out the coffee, cool some more water, serve lunch, the people are waiting, yalla”). i share dalal’s worries for them for when she’s back in the US, but seeing them like this, i am hopeful too. the way his family is now, that’s abu mustafa. his friend ben said it simple, “a good man”.
* any pictures and footage of abu mustafa are very appreciated by his family. if you have any (might be something there they don’t have yet), please email me or share with them directly (or with manal, she’s thinking of making a compilation for them). thank you